23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on 27 January 2014
I agree with a previous reviewer that this book could benefited from a bit of editing down; it is probably slightly longer than it needs to be. In spite of this though I wholeheartedly give it five stars, since it is so clearly and engagingly written, with a wonderful lucid prose style. The author communicates very well the ideas of classical theism, and shows how these ideas are ubiquitous across all the great religious traditions. He explains brilliantly, and better than anyone else I've read, how the human capacity for grasping the world by means of abstract conceptions (universals) necessitates a transcendental perspective, and how our desire for knowledge, for justice, for beauty and for love all point to this same transcendent realm. I love the way he shows how our bare ability to know THAT something exists, even before we know what it is, points, once again, to this transcendental perspective. He also shows clearly, but also respectfully and with sensitivity, that the naturalistic worldview is ultimately absurd, in the same sense in which the great atheist philosophers such as Sartre and Camus described it as so. He does not set out to show that naturalism or atheism is false, but he does succeed in showing that just about everything in our phenomenological experience that we value and care about cannot be grounded when we subscribe to them, and that, furthermore, we have no little in the way of good reasons to believe that they are true anyway. Open-minded atheists, theists and agnostics should enjoy and be stimulated by this book, and therefore I unreservedly recommend it.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 14 June 2014
One of the wonderful things about David Bentley Hart's latest book is the sheer breadth of the author's reading. Weaving together sources from contemporary and classic philosophy with those from a variety of the world's major religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, etc.) reading this book feels like being taken on a guided tour of a lifetime of reading and reflection. And it is no arid reader or tome, with the author's heart worn very much on his sleeve. The central contention is not that dissimilar to the one contained in Karen Armstong's 'The Case for God' i.e. that the god that predominates so much contemporary debate, especially amongst fundamentalists on both sides of the argument, is essential a modern creation (with Deists again taking much of the blame) that is far removed from the understanding of God as found in traditional teaching of most of the world's major religious and philosophical traditions. In this latter schema God is not a super-being (like you or I, but with greater powers), but is rather the depth and ground of being itself; God is not a demiurge or grand architect (Hart clearly has little patience for creationism or intelligent design) but is the root and cause of all being.
My two principal criticisms of the book would be as follows: first, one suspects that a judicious editor could have removed 50-100 pages without an loss of meaning or insight. The author's animated writing style and enthusiasm ensure that if never feels like a slog, but it could be more succinct and would probably gain for the improved brevity. Second, as noted the author possesses a rather rambunctious and unguarded approach to writing. Comparisons are not unreasonably made to G K Chesterton in full flow. This is part of what makes this book so refreshing and engaging - its also not unfair to suggest that compared to the brickbats that routinely fly in the other direction in theist-atheist debates Hart is the model of civility. However, I can imagine some of my friends who are atheist and agnostic being detered by Hart's occasionally high-handed tone, which would be a great shame as there is so much in his writing that is thought provoking and inspiring, and should appeal to an audience with a wide range of personal convictions. It is not a major flaw, but there a few moments where a slightly more diplomatic articulation of the author's own views might have been beneficial.
Ultimately, however my main concern is simply that it is unlikely that many strict materialists or religious souls of a more fundamentalist persuasion will read this book or engage openly with its contents. As such it is most likely to end up being read and enjoyed by people (such as the reviewer) who are already largely sympathetic to the arguments and views contained therein. I guess this is always the most likely outcome, but still, in the case of this book, it feels like a missed opportunity to fuel a wider and more constructive debate.
31 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on 28 December 2013
This book is so good that praising it is easy. That its author is able to thread his way unharmed through so many profound issues, with no need to obscure them in unnecessary complications and with no loss of rigour, while systematically dismantling the iconography of most of the popular faiths of our time, from Materialism to evangelical Protestantism, from mundane Naturalism to Intelligent Design, is a testament to his clear understanding of them.
What it says about metaphysics, philosophy, consciousness studies, theology and so forth is for the most part simple and, in philosophical terms, fairly obvious. What it says about God would be a different matter, but it is not obscure. It is fearless in its adherence to sound reasoning and common-sense and takes no prisoners.
The meaning of the word `God', when this is used in its most profound or fundamental sense, in other words its correct sense, is carefully proscribed, and this ultimate phenomenon is clearly distinguished from the various non-reductive and anthropomorphic ideas of God that are invariably the target of atheist preachers and quite often objects of faith for their opponents.
God is defined in such a way that it becomes quite easy to speak of Him in terms of Being, Consciousness and Bliss, and thereby almost casually to syncretise the world's main theistic and atheistic religions. The idea that the God of Christianity, Islam and Judaism would be inconsistent with the discoveries and teachings of Buddhism, Taoism and advaita Vedanta is explicitly rejected in the sub-title and is not entertained for a moment. Rather, there is a cross-referencing of quotations that indicates the commonality of their core doctrine.
The lunacy of modern philosophy of mind is exposed for what it is, with no sleights of hand and no attempt to make the discussion incomprehensible. Metaphysics is not ignored, as it so often is for contemporary discussions of consciousness, it being an inconvenient reminder that almost all current theories fail trivially in logic. Materialism, specifically, is shown to be logically indefensible. Atheism may sometimes be a subtle thing, but in any of its common forms it is dismissed as nonsensical. Most popular forms of theism are rejected, not necessarily as misguiding in their effects but as being non-reductive, thus at least to some extent naïve in their ontology and conceptualisation. There is something to upset almost everyone.
This is not yet another long and inconclusive discussion of things we can never understand, replete with tedious rehearsals of arguments that we can never settle. It is an attempt to explain, or this is its effect, that in fact we can know these things, we can settle these arguments, just as long as we apply our reason carefully, maintain a disinterested approach and keep our thoughts as simple and direct as possible, or at least sufficiently simple that we do not become lost in our own sophistry. It is a demonstration that this achievement is possible.
We may not be quite sure of how authoritative is the author, or of whether his arguments are quite as conclusive as he makes them out to be, but the easy simplification of the issues is clear evidence that he understands the issues comprehensively, is confident of his facts and sure of his reasoning. There is no need to dissemble under these circumstances.
We cannot explain anything completely without positing a phenomenon transcendental to the psycho-physical or space-time universe. For Hart this is perfectly obvious. Why not call it God? Then we can progressively narrow down the definition of this phenomenon by a process of empiricism and logic and see what emerges. Inevitably, various articles of religious faith and some popular secular beliefs about God and the universe will have to abandoned along the way, they cannot all be correct, but we need not be anxious. Hart shows that religion, science and metaphysics would emerge unscathed from such a process. It is only that along the way we may gain a clearer idea of how these bodies of knowledge are related and of how their respective discoveries and results may be aligned for a fundamental theory. Crucially, we may come to see how an atheistic Buddhism may be explained as consistent with a theistic Christianity, simply by rendering one particular form of atheism and one particular form of theism indistinguishable. Then it becomes possible to reduce the argument between theism and atheism to a matter of terminology.
The only passage that bothered me, or at least gave my neck a rest from nodding in agreement, was the discussion of miracles. It seemed to assume, or at least suggest, that theism must demand their possibility, and that, therefore, it must demand the rejection of naturalism. I do not believe that this is the case, nor that it would necessarily follow from any of the argument presented by the author. I would rather believe that where an event seems to us to be a miracle it is evidence of our ignorance, and that it would appear to be a natural event to someone with a correct understanding of Nature, Her laws and their relation to any higher laws. This quibble seems almost certain to be a matter of terminology and definitions, the use of the word `naturalism' in particular, rather than a difference of opinion about miracles. All the same, the idea of asking a materialist to swallow the idea that the laws of creation can be broken seems strategically flawed when it should be enough to simply point out that we do not know or understand these laws yet, so have no method for distinguishing between a miracle and a law-governed event. After all, that the universe can make itself a cup of tea and sit down to read a book might easily be viewed as a miracle.
I would have liked a bit more metaphysics, simply because it would have strengthened the arguments even further to show that God, as defined by Hart, would solve all `problems of philosophy' in principle, and not just those that are mentioned in this discussion. But one book cannot do everything.
As another reviewer has mentioned, what is surprising is the readability of the book and, for a discussion of this kind, that it brings to mind Chesterton. In this sense it is 'popular'. It is no more than a personal judgement, but I would not hesitate to recommend this book to any person of any age or philosophical persuasion who cares about the rationality of their world-view and who would be capable of reading it.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 30 January 2015
I'm roughly two thirds of the way through this work, however I have to say it has so far proved to be an incredibly eye-opening and academically rigorous book. It is a genius critique of naturalism that essentially points out the issues with basing all thought on the philosophical position of naturalism - in other words, basing your world view and arguments for the empirically unobservable (God) on the empirically observable. If you are at all interested in philosophy, then do read this book. It is not only a stunning case for God (or an ultimate 'higher consciousness'), but also a frank reminder of the mysteries of existence, and the fact that we do not see reality directly as it is, if there even is such a thing as objective reality.
In short, BUY IT!
3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 22 April 2014
Hart makes the point that the God he is attempting to describe and justify is not a small ‘g’ god or the demiurge of the Old Testament who created a universe from pre-existing chaos but one that’s very much the ex-nihilo be-all and end-all of existence. But, given that he is explicitly aiming this book at atheists he appears to have missed the memo that for the most part it is only the existence of the demiurge that atheists are denying. After all it is the theistic gods that are supposed to answer prayers and wreak punishments with careless abandon on human kind. These are the gods for which not only is there no evidence but substantial evidence against even though these are also the gods that, despite Hart’s conviction, most naïve believers look to for moral guidance and salvation. Hart, at least in part, is flirting with something very close to pantheism which really does not square with his own professed Eastern Orthodox Christianity and he fails to make the qualitative leap between god in the abstract and a God we should care about.